Honestly, you couldn't meet a nicer bunch of people than the metalheads gathered in gritty downtown Baltimore this weekend for the biggest death, doom and black metal festival in America.
The Maryland Deathfest is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, with organizers anticipating a record 4,000-plus enthusiasts of the growling, pulsating, bass-heavy sub-genres of heavy metal rock to attend.
"With the underground metal scene, it's kind of like a family-type event," said Evan Harting, 27, who co-founded Deathfest with high school friend Ryan Taylor, 30, after going to other festivals and reckoning they could do better.
"Most people just don't listen to one or two metal bands," Harting told AFP. "It's more like a lifestyle thing.... It's something people get into at some point and never really stop. They're really dedicated to the music."
So what defines "underground"?
"Not radio-friendly stuff, I guess you would say," he said.
Sixty-one bands are lined up to perform at the Sonar Club and two adjacent outdoor stages until Sunday beneath an elevated expressway that's a stone's throw from Baltimore's red light district and a Roman Catholic church.
Top draw is Electric Wizard, making its first US festival appearance since it was formed in 1993 in Dorset, England. With dark lyrics that touch upon witchcraft and horror films, it has a big cult following stateside.
Just over 20 other bands on the program are also from outside the United States, including Germany's Morgoth, Chile's Pentagram, Canada's Anvil, Swedish groups Setherial and Nasum, and Church of Misery from Japan.
Day tickets for the four-day Deathfest are $50 a pop, but few complained Friday as fans lined up patiently for more than a hour to slip through security and a chain link fence onto the festival grounds.
The dress code? Black. As in black cargo shorts and T-shirt for guys, preferably with a slogan like "Obligated to Suffer", and black short shorts, punk bullet belts and tank tops for girls. And the more tattoos, the better.
Drugs of choice? Nothing harder than cigarettes and beer, plus an odd joint.
So what makes underground metal, the heaviest variety of heavy metal, so compelling?
"It starts with the sound," explained Howie Voigt, 35, a convenience store clerk in Wisconsin when he's not fronting his own band Catatomic or selling CDs backstage, as he was Friday, released by his own indie label.
"But the thing is, it's underground music. It ends up being community."
To those who'd dismiss metal as all noise and no music, Voigt said he'd reply: "You're right! ... It's a campaign for musical destruction."
Amanda Solomon, 27, from New Jersey was keen to catch Negura Bunget, a Romanian black metal band whose latest album was sold, in limited edition, with a complementary handful of real Transylvanian dirt.
"It's not something you'd see here" in the United States, she said, noting how Negura Bunget includes traditional instruments such as pan pipes into its otherwise standard guitar-and-drum lineup.
Metalheads can be surprisingly open-minded in their musical tastes, like Ryan Collins, 32, an insurance underwriter from Lafayette, New York, who's looking forward to attending bluegrass and psychedelic rock events this year.
"Summer equals festivals," said Collins as Danish thrash pioneers Artillery prepared to open fire on stage. "It's good, going outside and enjoying the nice weather."
Breaching the noir dress code was Chris Penrod, 21, of Annapolis, Maryland, who turned up in a yellow chicken costume for some joyful slam-dancing in the mosh pits -- the free-for-all zone situated just beneath a stage.
"It all started as a random idea five years ago," the fish-market worker told AFP, explaining his poultry get-up. "Sometimes, I'm in the pit. Sometimes, I'm the target (of other slam-dancers)."
Matt Rice, 39, who toils in real estate in the Baltimore area, might have performed at Deathfest this year if his band Yesterday's Saints wasn't busy on its next album, but he described how it feels to be on stage.
"When the pit starts rolling and you make that connect with the people in the front, well, it's the reason I keep coming back for more and more," he shouted against the deafening power riffs of Macabre, a Chicago death metal crew.
Macabre so impressed Cayley Landsburg, 24, of Rochester, New York, that she hired them, plus another metal band, to play at her wedding this September before she goes back to university for a doctorate in economics.
"My fiance (a technical writer she met at a Cannibal Corpse show) loves doom metal and I love death metal," said Landsburg, who sports a bubbly personality and a colorful full-length leg tattoo. "I thought we'd have a show with both."